A Note on Free SpEEch

I've paid very close attention to Jess Zimmerman's blog of late and partake in and read the comment threads. Here's something I've noticed: There's a difference between writing a comment intelligently and writing a comment thoughtfully. Now, I don't mean that the pointed calls for Fong's ousting and criticism of the internal disciplinary process are not well-reasoned. But thoughtfulness in this climate must lead us to consider speech and the internet more broadly. We may make our allegiances, but what of the future?

Something that caught my eye in the Collegian Online earlier this week was Levester Johnson's comment on Juicy Campus being brought down. He offered this as evidence of the proper protection of free speech on these, the interwebs. Much of what appeared on that site was crude, rash, ignorant, out of touch with reality and seemingly irrelevant. I say seemingly because not only were individuals hurt by it but so was the reputation of the student body. More importantly that cesspool of anonymity also exhibited misogyny and homophobia.

The memory of Juicy Campus became all the more relevant when a friend shared with me a group from the Book of Faces. This group (and my perspective is limited as I refuse to join it) purports to be, "a group where you can post the outrageous/absurd/hilarious/tragic things heard while on Butler's campus. All of those crazy things you hear people say post on the wall and all can laugh about the things Butler students, faculty, staff, and randoms on campus say."

A quick review of the one page of Wall that I am allowed to see revealed what appeared to be a form of Juicy Campus. Neo-Juice perhaps. The most important difference is that posters have no option to be anonymous. Yet some of the comments remain crude. Some are humorous. And unfortunately there are several comments which appear to mock and find outrageousness, absurdity, hilarity and tragedy in homosexual and transgendered lifestyles.

Now, this group is not a lone wolf trolling the tubes, it's a very public and student-sponsored outlet of Butler University. What do we make of free speech in this context? It's not terribly useful, certainly not civil and, in many senses, it's socially damaging. Is it worth defending? If not, then where do we draw the line?

These kinds of questions form a well-thought opinion and distinguish it from a well-worded one. And, I'm not claiming that abhorrent examples of free speech should be used to reign in Jess Zimmerman or lessen the enormity of what the university has done. But I am trying to show how it is difficult for people on the raw end of "irrelevant" gossip to easily weigh in. And if we are, as the Underground claimed and I Am John Doe has shown, living within a climate a fear, it goes to show how careful we must be to ensure that an ability to dissent does not host an ability to hate.

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